- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
I am a woman with Asperger's Syndrome - Depression and Anxiety
I did not know I was on the Autism Spectrum growing up. I only knew I had massive anxiety and panic attacks, depression, and no one really seemed to like me and I didn't have friends, or many.
Depression for me started to be a real problem in my teens. I think any teenager, regardless of having autism or not, struggles in their teen years! For someone on the spectrum this struggle can be a million times worse.
It was in my teens when I was fully starting to realize how different I was from everyone else. As a child it never really dawned on me, as much, even though I knew I was different. As a teenager I would obsess over just how different I was. I was thinking about boys now, in a different way, but had absolutely no clue what to do about it. Some girl friends of mine had boyfriends and would talk with me about everything they would do with them, including sex. I wouldn't really be able to comment or share my own stories with them. I was no where near ready to have a boyfriend, or to be sexually active.
High school was not an easy place for me to be. I obsessed over the popular girls - how they looked and how they acted, dressed, talked etc. I would study them intently but would never be able to fully act like them in order to fit in. I kept to myself, and my small group of "outcasts" that I called friends. The depression got worse when I decided I would stop eating. I figured if I were to lose a ton of weight I would get more attention, even though I was already pretty skinny. Maybe the popular girls would like me then? Maybe the boys? I needed to stand out. I guess what I didn't realize was I already did stand out, as the strange girl.
I developed anorexia as a young teenager and my life went downhill from there. I was already a confused, sad girl before, but add on the eating disorder and things got a million times worse.
Anorexia was something I had control over and it made me feel as if I had some sort of power. I felt stronger, although I was a lot weaker. I didn't get severely under weight, but my weight did plummet and I never did get seen as popular or cool, like my young teenage mind thought would happen. I just got sick and people started to worry about me. So I took that worry as attention, any attention was good attention, and continued to restrict my food intake.
Once I had graduated high school I found myself living in my small bedroom, keeping the door closed at all times. I would cry a lot. I would cry because I wanted a boyfriend but didn't know how to get one, and if I did get one I wouldn't know what to do with him! I would cry because I wasn't skinny enough or I had eaten too much that day. I would cry because I didn't understand myself, I was a confused mess all the time. Why wasn't I like the other girls?
Eventually I had to let my mother help me get treatment, although I didn't want it. It was more attention. But really I was feeling weak and faint all the time. I never felt well. I eventually was started on some anti depressants as well and things started to change then. But I still didn't know who I was or why I was the way I was!
Anxiety and depression go hand in hand. If you have one you'll probably have the other. During my most depressed times my anxiety and panic attacks were at their worst. I would develop Agoraphobia, fear of leaving my own house. I could barely attend high school, and I barely passed great 12. I developed a lot of phobia's, mostly ones that revolved around school. Getting on the school bus was practically impossible. Sitting in a classroom was impossible. I had to eventually get a lot of help in school. One thing that changed was I got to sit near the door in order to feel "safer" and I could leave whenever I needed to. Just knowing that I could get up and leave made it more possible for me to sit in the classroom. I didn't want people thinking I was strange for always needing to sit closest to the door though.
My mother would drive me to school a lot so I could avoid the bus phobia. I had to be in control. I was going to be doing things in a strange way but this was the way it was going to work for me.
I found if I didn't go out for a long time, after I had finished high school, I could very easily fall back into being Agoraphobic. I realized I had to start making a huge effort to get myself out of the house every single day no matter what. But life after school was very hard as well. I was a completely lost person. Everyone was getting jobs and going to parties but I couldn't do those things. My anxiety was too strong for me to go out with the friends I had in high school. The thought of being far away from my safe little bedroom at all was enough to throw me into full blown panic. I had a lot of work I needed to do... but it wouldn't come till much later in life.
Depression and anxiety are with everyone on the spectrum but we do not need to struggle with it to the point where we can't even leave our bedroom. There are things that can be done! Things we can work on! We can be more free!
For me I did need medication for the extreme anxiety issues, and the depression. The medication for depression helped, a bit. I would feel different, more "up" but I was still me, and "me" was confusing. I would continue to be depressed. The medication for anxiety was the relief I had needed most of my life! I could finally calm down and relax. I was able to go out easier but still, I was still me and "me" was confusing.
It wouldn't be until I was in my 30's when I read about Autism spectrum disorders. I was still taking medication for anxiety at this time, but I was not severely depressed anymore. Every single puzzle piece finally came together. The weight that had been resting on my shoulders all my life finally lifted. Everything finally made sense! Everything was so clear!
My advice? You cannot help yourself without knowing yourself. Put it all together if you can, all your problems, all your quirks, etc. Take it to a professional, if you can afford it, or research online. It's OK to be your own doctor for a bit. People on the spectrum like to research, and need to find answers so this should not feel like a "chore".
There is always help out there for depression and anxiety, you just need to seek it out. Start with your family doctor and if you don't even have a doctor get one! No one needs to suffer when there are treatments available. This doesn't mean medication is your only choice, of course not. There are many things you can do to ease anxiety and lift depression, starting with just a change in the way you think.
Getting your anxiety under control will help in so many situations I couldn't even list them all here. You will be more relaxed no matter what your doing, or need to go and do. You need to find ways to cope and live your life the happiest you can.
- What's the connection between autism and depression? | Blog | Autism Speaks
Is there a relationship between autism and depression? Perspective from Christopher McDougle, MD, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism